Monday, August 13, 2012

Week's start on drought news: Wells dry up, crop insurance helps, pot shrivels, some areas gain

A cornfield in Bloomsdale, Mo., where wells
wells are going dry. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
"Everyone, most everything, needs water," Rick Montgomery of The Kansas City Star wrote Sunday in the first installement of his three-part series, "Chasing the Drought." "We just can’t always expect it to be there, not as the world’s population grows and its moisture content stays the same."

So begins the week's reporting on what is fast becoming the topic none of us can escape.

“This year’s drought is a great opportunity to look at the plans in place and better prepare for the next drought,” Michael Hayes, executive director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska told Montgomery. The reporter has traveled through seven Midwest states and "met with farmers, beef producers, worried weather experts, park managers and policy wonks" to find out how each would try to avert some of this pain down the road, if it can be averted. (More here)

Abandoned Main Street in post-irrigation
Happy, Texas (Scott Tong photo)
How much impact? Today, 36 states are projecting water shortages next year. For regulators, it's hard to limit the use of the essential resources, especially in states like Texas, where groundwater is part of your private property. American Public Radio's Marketplace visited Happy, Tex., a small town in the Panhandle that knows what it's like to run out of water. (Read more)

You can add residential water wells to the list of casualties claimed by the Drought of 2012, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "For months, farmers have been forced to drill deeper wells to water parched crops and feed livestock. But in recent weeks, homeowners across the state have reported that they can't perform basic tasks such as doing laundry or washing dishes, let alone even think about watering their flower beds. It's a difficult problem to quantify, because most private wells go unmonitored."

While the government has slashed its estimate of the soybean yield, made only a month ago, to the lowest level since 2003 and its estimate of the corn yield to the lowest level since 1995, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says 85 percent of farmers are covered by crop insurance, The New York Times reports.

It's safe to bet that these farmers aren't covered: Lauren Pack of the Dayton Daily News and John Caniglia of The Cleveland Plain Dealer report that the state's marijuana crop has suffered horribly in the drought. "The potent plant that thrives in fields and wooded acres across Ohio has suffered through an unusually brutal summer," he writes. In many places, plants are a fraction of the 4- or 5-foot height that is normal for this point of the growing season. Give it time; it's a weed, remember? (Photo from KEVO-TV, Brownsville, Tex., with story by Tina McGarry)

Of course, the drought is good news for farmers in places where it is absent, because it has driven up prices, but those effects can be broader and indirect, in areas where grains are not major crops. In western North Carolina, award-winning editor Jonathan Austin of the Yancey County News found a way to make the national story local in a region that is getting plenty of rain: "Some area farmers may want to consider taking a chance by buying some of the cattle flooding the market in the Midwest. The impact of the drought on food prices could also lead more residents to begin shopping locally," according to North Carolina State University's Arnold Oltman, a professor of agriculture and resource economy. Austin also reports the region's "availability of water may prove to be an economic boon to microfarmers, beef growers and others who look to the land for at least some of their income." (Read more)

No comments: